Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Speaking the Truth in Love

I recently read an article on ESPN.com written by Rick Reilly on Nebraska’s assistant football coach Ron Brown and his “top recruit” Brett Major. The article wasn’t about a football recruit but a recruit Ron Brown made while speaking to a youth group about Christ. Brett Major, who was 11 at the time, heard Ron Brown speak at his youth group. Major says, “He was a dynamic speaker…We idolized anybody that had anything to do with Nebraska football. I just sat there and went, ‘Wow. He’s cool and he’s Nebraska football and he believes in God.’ And that’s all it took for me.” Brown then called any listeners who wanted to give their lives to Christ to come forward. Major says from that point forward “I decided I wanted to live a Christian life.”


Now 24 years old Major is a homosexual. Brown’s message and Major’s lifestyle don’t go hand in hand. Brown speaks out against those who practice homosexuality as a lifestyle while Major is a professing Christian who is a homosexual. The man who once brought hope to this 11 year kid is now speaking against his lifestyle. “Ron Brown can think whatever he wants…I just don’t want him to put up barriers in my life…I don’t have to report to Ron Brown at the pearly gates” says Major. Pretty mind blowing stuff.

Also in the mix is Reilly who has his own take on the story. Reilly thinks Brown shouldn’t be fired but should quit for spewing his “bigoted, hateful, un-Christian message.” What’s his source on Christianity? You would think it would be God’s word but all we get is the opinion of Major and a quotation from Pastor Craig Finnestad of the Water’s Edge Methodist Church who says, “The Bible gives no account of Jesus encountering homosexuals…Jesus loved everybody and his love for others didn’t depend on their behavior or beliefs.” There is so much wrong in this article that I’m not sure I’ll address all the issues but these comments from Pastor Finnestad must be addressed. This is a minister of God’s word who, I fear, is missing out on God’s word. So before we get too carried away on who we call bigoted, hateful, un-Christian, maybe we should turn to the Bible to see what God has to say.

First let’s set a foundation on God. God has always existed. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps. 90:2). There are many passages on this reality but due to space I will only speak of a few. The Prophet Isaiah says, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (40:28). This brings us to the next reality that God is the Creator of everything. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). All of us know there is a God who created everything. “How can you say that as a matter of fact?” Glad you asked. I’m not. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:19-23). We decided to reject the Creator to worship that which is created. We became fools. This is a good foundation: God is God and we are his creation. We are all accountable to him.

Next let me tell you why I want to go to the Scriptures for an argument. When Scripture is quoted the rebuttals back or arguments that may flood back will not be against me but against God. “How can you be so sure the Bible is God’s Word?” Once again, glad you asked. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). “But I thought different men wrote the Bible?” Tis true but Scripture says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). God spoke through these men being carried along by the Holy Spirit who is God. The Scriptures are God’s word to us. They are without error, speaking the truth about life because they were given to us from our Creator. The Scriptures are for God’s glory pointing us to his redemptive work in Christ for the saving of sinners. This is why we must turn to God to see what he has to say about us.

Next let me say that we are all sinners in need of God’s amazing grace. From Adam to the baby born this second we are all sinners. It’s an ugly reality but reality nonetheless. Sin entered the world through Adam and the curse is passed down to every person since Adam. “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The result is death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In Romans 3 we get an ugly picture of our own heart’s, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (10-12,23). Not good! The prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (17:9). All of us are sinners: Ron Brown, Brett Major, Rick Reilly, Pastor Finnestad and me.

Being sinners we are all in need of God’s grace. Let me make a distinction on the grace we find in the Scriptures. Grace is receiving something we do not deserve. If we earned or deserved it then it would not be grace. First there is God’s common grace. If you are breathing then you are currently experiencing God’s common grace. “[God] himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Scripture says, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). God shows this grace to everyone. The other grace is God’s saving grace. God’s saving grace is for everyone but not everyone receives this grace. Saving grace comes through Jesus Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). “Being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). Most of us like this grace. We acknowledge we are sinners in need of grace so we sign up for the fire insurance. We tend to sign a card, walk an aisle, or raise a hand without considering the cost. Saving grace isn’t a onetime deal. Never has been, never will be. Saving grace continues to relieve us from our sin. Our justification happens in an instant. This is where we go from God’s enemies to his friends (Romans 5:6-11). But from that point on our life begins to change because of Christ’s work in our lives. Our desires and appetite for sin begin to fade away in the light of the supreme value of knowing Christ. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How are we who died to sin still live in it” (Romans 6:1)? Answer. We’re not but we will if we are trying to do it apart from Christ. The killing of sin stems from dying to self and submitting to Christ and his will for our lives. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:5-6). Freedom from sin comes from being alive in Christ. When we are alive in Christ “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (14). The cross of Jesus Christ not only provides forgiveness but also brings about change in the life of sinners. Our love for Christ compels us to love the things he loves and hate the things he hates.

Why these points? Back to Pastor Finnestad’s words, “The Bible gives no account of Jesus encountering homosexuals…Jesus loved everybody and his love for others didn’t depend on their behavior or beliefs.” The best argument is not Jesus’ lack of encountering homosexuals but should be the entirety of his Word. I started with the foundations because God is the Creator and what he says is right. He is good. His ways are the standard. We should go back to some of the basics we read in his Word. A pastor should most definitely go back to the Scriptures. The second chapter of Genesis tells us, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). “But it doesn’t say a female it says wife.” Maybe I should back up, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:20-22). All we have at the point of the verse 24 is a man and a woman. The wife God is speaking of is a woman. This is the first marriage but also the definition of marriage. God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman.

Then…the fall.

Sin enters the world. We read in Romans 1 is this: “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (1:26-27). We exchanged the natural for the unnatural. I say we because we have all done this in one form or another. The natural would ultimately be to honor God but that is not what we do in our sin. God defines marriage as one man and one woman but because of the fall we have exchanged the natural for the unnatural.

Another aspect that is sad about homosexuality is the destruction of family. Throughout the Scriptures we read that one of the aspects of marriage is to “be fruitful and multiply.” Children are a gift and a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 17:14, 127:3). Without being able to have children the family and society is ultimately being destroyed. In a letter written to Tom Osborne, Nebraska AD, and Chancellor Harvey Perlman, Major’s parents wrote, “Gays can be raised in the ‘perfect’ family environment with parents active and nurturing.” I whole heartedly believe this is true but the sad reality is the fact that it ends with that generation. What’s going to be missing is the next generation of loving, nurturing parents because there will be no children. The next generation will not be able to “be fruitful and multiply” as God intended to be the case for marriage. The family is destroyed.

Sadly I know what follows after saying these things about homosexuality, “You’re just a hater, narrow-minded bigot, who doesn’t understand love and compassion.” I get it. But you’ve missed the point. I would write these same things about those consumed and dominated by lust, anger, envy, coveting, divorce, adultery, greed and so on. Sin is sin. The Scriptures are clear that sin is against God and his holiness therefore sinners are opposed to God. He tells us what is right and wrong. That standard is perfection which all of us have fallen short. But he didn’t leave us in our miserable plight. Rather he descended from heaven to take on the form of a servant. He became a man, born of a virgin, living a perfectly obedient life to the Father’s will (Phil. 2:5-11). Jesus lived the life we could not live nor ever could life. He is sinless. Jesus had every right to go back to heaven before the cross. He didn’t have to die because it was our cup of wrath he was going to bear. We should drink it, not him. But in love Jesus endured the mocking, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the spitting, the climb up Golgotha and ultimately the laying down of his life on an old rugged cross. He had no charge against him yet he went. He hung. He bleed. He died a criminal’s death. Why? Because he was the only one who could die in the place of sinners as a substitute. Our wrath was poured out on Christ. This is love. "God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

As for the second part of Pastor Finnestad's statement that Jesus loved everyone and his love was not based on behaviors or beliefs. True. Jesus did love everyone but that doesn't mean he didn't correct people or point out sin. It seems love has to do with ignoring biblical matters or ignoring sin but that is not love at all. "Love does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love doesn't turn away from the truth and God's word is the truth. The Scriptures tell us the standard and those who reject Christ's word ultimately reject Christ. Jesus was ruthless with those that thought they knew God but rejected him. The Pharisee, Sadducees and chief priest all thought they were in because of every good or loving thing they had done but they had one really big problem: They rejected Christ. But Christ loved them enough to tell them the problem. Read John 8 and see the encounter he had with the Pharisees in that chapter. Jesus loved by confronting sin. He did not sweep it under the rug of acceptance but lovingly exposed sin. As Christians we have the only answer for sin. The only remedy offered is Christ and him as the substitute for our sins.

I am grateful for this article because it allows us to continue dialogue on very important issue while checking out the best sports site on the planet. I am grateful for writers who will talk about these sorts of things. I hope what was said in this post was honoring to the Lord first and foremost. I hope I spoke the truth in love to all parties addressed.
 
Grace upon grace,
JRL

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Only Message of Hope

Have you ever heard the good news, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"? Paul penned those words to Timothy which we have recorded in the Scriptures. This is the great message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did indeed come to rescue sinners from their ugly plight. This is the simple yet profound message for Christians to proclaim. This is the message of Christ's bride the Church. The message of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is the message of hope. The only message of hope for everyone is the gospel. Paul says the gospel is the message of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-4). But I wonder how many churches put this gospel front and center in their services. How many churches are getting this message right?

I recently began pondering this question when I had some conversations with some people about God's saving work in Christ Jesus. I also heard a message from Thabiti Anyabwile titled "Will your gospel transform a terrorist"? Great question. As I've had the privilege to talk with people I am learning there can be a disconnect between the message that has saved them and the message for those who seem to be unreachable. As if the message of the gospel is for "good" church people only. But here is the deal; good people don't need the gospel. They may know the message of salvation because they have heard it but rather than depend on Jesus Christ and trust in him alone they cling to their morality. All of us can fall into this trap which is why we need to remind ourselves of the gospel. As we remind ourselves of what Christ has done in dying in our place we will begin to realize that we are not good people. No one is good (Romans 3:9-20) and as Christians we should be the first to understand this reality. We should understand that if God saved me he can save anyone. Good people don't need Jesus but the truth is everyone needs Jesus. Therefore all of us need the gospel. From those who are in the church constantly to those sitting on death row it is the same good news for everyone: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners".

Next time you are tempted to think God would not or could not save a certain person: repent. That is a lie from Satan. It is a sin because it takes the God of the Bible out of the equation and therefore diminishes God as God. It is also a sin because of the pride rooted in the heart that thinks they are better than another person. It is by grace alone that we are saved (Eph. 2:8-9) and by grace alone that anyone else is saved as well. If you have the tendency to find yourself superior to another person than you are clinging to morality not Christ which is a sin. The cross is a loudspeaker telling others we are not good people. Let's stop trying to fool ourselves and others about who we are in Christ. We are sinners saved by grace that ought to desire to see other sinners saved by grace.

Grace upon grace,
JRL

Monday, May 7, 2012

No Greater Joy


Imagine, no greater joy than this
The bliss
He redeemed those who were his
Elected
Chosen
Reconciled
By the God who rules on his throne
He loved the world so much he sent his Son to make them his own
But when I say Son I mean the God-man Jesus Christ
He dwelt in heaven with the Father and Spirit
Enjoying perfect fellowship as the triune God
Not needing us but we needing a substitute
This was an absolute
Cause sinners are not able to stand before holiness
So in weakness he came
Born as a slave
From the womb of a virgin
This was the plan before the foundations were formed
Because of Adam all mankind needed to be restored
"But it's not my fault" most people cry
"I didn't eat the forbidden fruit"
But they lie to themselves thinking they don't deserve to die
But the truth remains
We're all born in the grave
It's an ugly sight
But in our sin we take much delight
Eternal darkness
Eternal death
Endless punishment is ours to endure
God is all just, we must come to him pure
Spotless
Blameless
Holy
This is why we need a substitute
The perfect One
The spotless Lamb
Jesus Christ Fully God and truly man
Our hope
Our Rescuer
Redeemer, Master and Lord
He is the gospel
Not some made up fairy tale
But in Him life will be happily ever after
No end to the life he offers
He will not be mocked by fools or scoffers
But glorified
Magnified
Exalted he sits at the right of the Father
His enemies shouldn't even bother
They can't take his throne
His name is Jesus
The glory belongs to him alone
He humbly came to mediate on our behalf
He came to die in our place
So we could tell others,
"I'm not better than you, I'm just a sinner saved by grace!"

Amazing grace
How sweet is the sound
Praise the King of kings
Praise him loud
He is worthy
He makes me clean
Even though I was dirty
Stained with the darkest of sin
Relentlessly he pursued me
My soul to win
No longer to fear death, hell, eternal devastation
This is God's grace that exceeds my imagination
Impossible to comprehend His love has no end
Complete
It is finished in the cross
The blood Jesus paid the debt for the lost Infinite cost
His death was a must
The Father's wrath had to be satisfied
In order to remain just
He sent the justifier
Invaded my soul, he changed my desires
No longer a slave to sin
My chains have been broken
My life rearranged
 Because of God's Word being spoken
The Spirit He opened my eyes
Now I could see for the very first time
I'm alive
Regeneration
Justification
The pursuit of godliness
Known as Sanctification
Loving the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, strength
Naturally allows me to love my neighbor like I love myself
Neither command is possible
Without the Spirit's help
His power working in me
Me Being faithful to my responsibility
Submitting to God's will
Following hard, treasuring the Scriptures
His Word
The Bible
Forsaking the fleeting pleasures of sin
Running from any idol
Why?
Christ is superior
He is the greatest treasure
He offers eternal joy at his right hand
He promises eternal pleasure
The last link of the unbreakable chain
Found in Romans 8:30
Glorification
Since we've been called
Justified
Sanctified
This chain says we will see him eye to eye
Because we'll be glorified
Seated with him in the heavenly place
We will sing with the angels
Praising the Lamb who was slain
This is the guarantee
The promise
God's design before there was time
He chose a people for his own possession
He had them in mind
He had me in mind Me?
Brought in by adoption
Me?
Chosen
Elected
Redeemed
All praise to the triune God!

Grace upon grace,
JRL